Let us consider the key terms encountered in the Gospels:
'the third day'
- Matt 16:21, 17:23, 20:19, 27:64; Mark 9:31, 10:34;
Luke 9:22, 13:32, 18:33, 24:7, 24:21, 24:46;
Acts 10:40; 1Cor 15:4
'after three days'
- Matt 27:63; Mark 8:31
'three days and three nights'
(the 'sign of the prophet Jonah')
- Matt 12:39-40, 16:4; Luke 11:29-30
'in three days'
- Matt 26:61, 27:40; Mark 14:58, 15:29; John 2:19-21.
[ Verses spoken by Jesus Christ are shown in red. ]
THE THIRD DAY
As can be seen the most popular expression used was 'the third day'.
Informing us that Jesus Christ would be raised the third day. This
was stated by Christ, the apostles and the Pharisees.
There has been discussion concerning whether the counting of these
three days should include or exclude the day of His death.
AFTER THREE DAYS
Scripture uses the term 'after three days' in conjunction with the
term 'the third day'.
Matt 27:62 ... the chief priests and Pharisees gathered together
:63 saying, "Sir, we remember, while He was still alive,
how that deceiver said, 'After three days I will rise'".
:64 Therefore command that the tomb be made secure until
the third day ...
(NB: The Greek says 'until the third day' and does not
specifically indicate until the end of the third
day. As Scripture tends to use 'until' in an
exclusive manner, eg. 'until death', if understood
normally it would suggest the guard could leave at
the close of the second day (start of the third day).
As the third day was when Christ was to rise this
is an unsatisfactory understanding. So another
explanation has to be identified. A satisfactory
understanding would be to view the 'third day' as
referring to the start of the third day of the
counting toward Pentecost. This would mean the
guard would continue to guard the tomb a further
day after the day Christ was to rise. At first
this may seem a little too long, but one has to
consider that the Jewish leadership did not know
if Christ's promise to rise was to occur early or
late on the resurrection day and they wanted to be
sure that they removed any possibility of His body
being secretly removed during any time of adjacent
Matt 16:21 From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples
that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things
from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and
be killed, and be raised again the third day.
Mark 8:31 And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must
suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders
and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and
after three days rise again.
The combining of the terms 'the third day' and 'after three days'
appears on the surface to be a contradiction!
THREE DAYS AND THREE NIGHTS
The following scripture strongly implies Christ would be in the tomb
for a full three days.
Matt 12:39 But He answered and said to them, "An evil and
adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and
no sign will be given to it except the sign of
the prophet Jonah.
:40 For as Jonah was three days and three nights
in the belly of the great fish, so will the
Son of Man be three days and three nights in
the heart of the earth.
The 'sign of the prophet Jonah' was to be a great sign to the people
of Christ's generation. Notice however that verses quoting or referring
to the 'three days and three nights' are only ever spoken by Christ!
IN THREE DAYS
Although the term 'in three days' does not directly point to the death
and resurrection of Christ, but rather to the rebuilding of the church,
it is helpful in assisting the reader in coming to a proper understanding
of the sequence of events.
John 2:18 So the Jews answered and said to Him, "What
sign do You show to us, since You do these
:19 Jesus answered and said to them, "Destroy
this temple, and in three days I will raise
:20 Then the Jews said, "It has taken forty-six
years to build this temple, and will You raise
it up in three days?"
:21 But He was speaking of the temple of His body.
:22 Therefore, when He had risen from the dead,
His disciples remembered that He had said this
to them; and they believed the Scripture and
the word which Jesus had said.
[ 1Cor 3:9 We are God's fellow workers; you are God's
field, you are God's building.
:16 Do you not know that you are the temple of
God ... ]
It is interesting that the use of the term 'in three days' is encountered
in chapter 2 of the Gospel of John. This phrase is therefore first
expressed very early in the mission of Jesus Christ.